A couple of weeks ago, 30 Rock hit its ratings peak—6.6 million viewers—with that live episode. Of course, S#*! My Dad Says and Bones both did better, but that’s neither here nor there.
What might be surprising to some people is that that 30 Rock number, 6.6 million viewers, is about what Nickelodeon’s most popular show, iCarly, averages on a weekly basis. For tweens, it’s an absolute phenomenon. 16-year-old Miranda Cosgrove, who plays Carly, signed a 26-episode contract this spring for an estimated low seven figure payday. She’s also started appearing in other non-Nick projects, from a guest spot on this week’s episode of The Good Wife to voicing a character in this summer’s Despicable Me.
iCarly’s not typical TV Club fare, but it’s only fair that we do our due diligence in watching all the popular shit on TV, right? Of course, much like episodes of Outsourced, not many TV Club writers are sitting around watching iCarly on a weekly basis, so I got tapped for the task, as the resident teen culture aficionado and lady-writer. Of course, I felt qualified, because, full discretion, when I got my Masters in Cultural Studies, my thesis paper was actually on “teen social structures in media, focusing on television.” Read: I watched a lot of Nickelodeon as a kid.
Anyway, with this cursory knowledge that iCarly was popular and people I knew and respected like Miranda Cosgrove, I watched this week’s very special “movie” (I don’t know if you can call a 47-minute-long episode a movie, though iCarly certainly does) guest starring Jack Black as, um, a guy who yells and sings a lot.
Here’s the $.10 jist of iCarly, a la Erik Adams’ brilliant “One Minute Hill” synopses on his Gossip Girl reviews: Overachieving teenager Carly is cool, has friends, has crushes on random guys in school. She lives in a laughably warehouse-y apartment with her brother, where she shoots her web show, iCarly, with friends Sam (the tough girl), Freddie (the dude), and Gibby (the kind of chubby comic relief). People like their show, and stuff, but Carly’s still a regular teenage girl with regular teenage problems. Boys! Oh, and she’s, like, really good at Internet stuff.
“iStart A Fan War” (all the show titles start with “I”), the “movie” focused on the iCarly crew’s trip to Webicon, a ComicCon like, uh, Con, where they were leading a panel for their fans. Carly’s brother Spencer was along for the ride after discovering there would be a “World Of Warlords ‘stume contest” at the Con (and they said ‘stume’ a lot …), which he, duh, thought he would win.
Without getting too “and then this happened” with the plot, because that’s kind of pointless with any kids show, a full scale “nerd riot” erupted at the iCarly panel as fans of a potential Sam/Freddie relationship (Seddies) and Carly/Freddie relationship (Creddies) faced off, while Spencer, in the b-story, battled a fellow Warlords costume dork, played by Cosgrove’s School Of Rock co-star, Jack Black. Oh, and Carly liked this dude, and she kept trying to convince him that she wasn’t dating Freddie, but no one believed her. The end.
iCarly has all the building blocks of a class kids or tween hit—laugh track, clueless adults, hip clothes—and that’s not surprising, considering it was created by Nickelodeon’s hit maker Dan Schneider, who also created All That, The Amanda Show, Zoey 101, and Drake & Josh, among other tween classics for the network. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that he played Dennis on Head Of The Class.)
What iCarly does better, though, and what Nickelodeon shows in general do better than your Hannah Montanas and Disney products, is appeal to young adults by playing on their perceived sense of worldliness. Carly’s not dumb. She doesn’t yell at the camera. She’s not too hammy. There is a laugh track, yeah, but it’s never in doubt that these kids have agency, that they’re smarter than everyone around them, and that they’re going to succeed far beyond their teenage years—both on the show and in real life. With iCarly, it’s not market and brand until the wheels fall off. It’s slow build, work smart, and maybe eventually Cosgrove can have a serious career. It’s a model that’s worked for Amanda Bynes, Kenan Thompson, and Josh Peck, as well as for people like Melissa Joan Hart.
Speaking of Hart, iCarly’s not really that different from Clarissa Explains It All, though I’m sure Hart wishes she’d gotten seven figures for her years of legging wearing. Clarissa had the whole computer thing going on, though it was far less high tech than iCarly’s QuickTime-style wipes and intense web presence. Carly’s got a good head on her shoulders, semi-journalistic aspirations, a family who just doesn’t get it like she clearly does, and a pretty cool room. For some reason, Carly’s aquarium-style coffee table reminded me a lot of Clarissa’s pet alligator Elvis and his little sandbox in her room. Maybe because they’re both completely impractical things that every girl who feels like an artsy outsider would want but that no one’s parents would let them have.
And that’s what tween TV is about—aspirational living. Girls want to dress like Carly. They wish their hair curled like Sam. They wish the guy they had a crush on wanted to video conference them at home in their super cool bedroom, and that, if they had a web show, people would want to come to their webicon panel. It’s what’s driven the popularity of vloggers like Fred and Shane Dawson. These are relatable kids that aren’t too different than viewers, even if they might yell a little more. If the tweens at home had a couple of lucky breaks, they might think, then they could be Carly too. Plus, just like Carly and crew, they’re just a little misunderstood, and far smarter than everyone around them—especially adults, duh.
- I suppose I should have more to say about Jack Black’s appearance in this episode, except there’s really not much to say. He was a big part of it, but he just Jack Blacked it up. He sang falsetto. He pranced. He wore a funny costume. I kept waiting for the “rig-a-gig-gig-gig” scatting, but it never came. He was a draw for the movie, pure and simple, not that they needed one. iCarly’s past special episodes have drawn upwards of 13 million viewers over two airings.
- The ComicCon spoof was kind of funny. At the iCarly panel, a fan asked about an obscure aspect of the web series where she sensed a perceived inconsistency (“Over the course of your episodes, Sam’s remote has played 93 distinct sounds when it clearly only has six buttons.”) and Spencer’s costume was questioned because his cape was made of burlap, when it was supposed to be made of jute.
- Carly, Sam, and Freddie’s speech at the end of their panel about how their Web show isn’t about romance or faux-relationships is undercut, a little bit, but the Nickelodeon pop-up encouraging fans to put “Team Seddie” or “Team Creddie” t-shirts on their online avatars.
- That was kind of a dick move, Carly, leaving your crush Adam in your panel, tied up and being destroyed by rioting fans. Seriously. Way to look out for number one.
- Nickelodeon does a masterful job of bumpering commercials into the TV shows, ensuring fans don’t miss a second of that precious advertising. Each very short break featured a “behind the scenes” clip from the making of the “movie” with Jack Black and the rest of the cast explaining things to the cameras. Nice job, youth marketing team!